Free Advice: Loving People through Loss

May 12, 2015

griefThe loss of a loved one is always difficult. When you are the friend of someone who lost a spouse, parent, or child, you want to be present. The question is; How? Today I want to share a little free advice. You all know what free advice is worth so don’t consider this a complete treatise on what to do, or what not to do. These are just a few lessons I’ve learned, some the hard way.

Just be there

I know. My first tidbit is a little underwhelming. But it’s true. If the wound is fresh and the person is actively grieving, sometimes just showing up is all it takes. You don’t have to have all the answers. You don’t have to “do” anything. Just sit with them. Listen. Acknowledge their pain. When they ask the difficult questions simply listen and share that you don’t know either, or share with them verses or promises in the Bible you’ve read. That said, don’t share an overly simple, “churchy” answer. It’s never simple; it can come across very shallow and seem to be minimizing their pain. Feel free to just listen.

Do something simple

I read once from someone who lost someone how meaningful it was to them that a friend came over and polished their shoes. The friend said, “I know the funeral is coming up and you have a lot on your plate. I’d like to polish your shoes so they will be ready.” It’s a really, really simple thing, but demonstrated in a tangible way. The person who has experienced loss probably has no idea how you can help. Sometimes just thinking about what you could need during that time is very productive. Do their laundry. Vacuum the house. Cut the grass. While you shouldn’t force yourself on the person, it’s often best to not ask; but simply inform them of your intention and then do it.

Remember the loss

After the initial grieving period is over you can remember the loss. Let’s say you run into the person at the store, church, or some other activity you both participate in. Most people, like me, are afraid of saying the wrong thing so they don’t say anything. This can be very hurtful to people. For them the person they lost still feels very much a part of their life, and they usually feel better when someone acknowledges that and/or shares a fond memory of the person. For example, “It’s great to see you here. I sure miss seeing Sam here with you. I know he really enjoyed the bands.” On the one hand that may rekindle some pain for the person, but on the other hand it reminds them they are not alone. Most of the people I’ve shared something similar with have been thankful that I’ve remembered the person. They’ve shared they feel like everyone else has forgotten the person who is still important to them.

Set a reminder

Related to the above I’ll often put a reminder on my calendar. So on the anniversary of the person’s death I’ll send a note, text, or make a call to the person just to say I’m praying for them and remember their loss. I’ll also try to mention something around big days like Christmas or other holidays. I’ll often say something like, “I know Christmas is going to be tough without Sam this year but I’m praying for you and hope you are still able to find joy this season.” That’s often followed with an invitation for the person to join my family in our activities.

Free AdviceIt’s still just free advice

In all these things I encourage you to pray and consider what’s most appropriate for your situation. My main encouragement is do not be afraid to engage. In my experience it’s much better to engage and do it poorly than it is to look down, shuffle away, and not say anything.

-Pat

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